Tag Archives: politics

Obama’s Farewell Address

Hello! Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day! I hope everyone can take a moment today to appreciate the work and sacrifices of this great civil rights leader. Unfortunately, I do not have any analyses of Dr. King’s speeches today. I have covered those in previous posts. However, today I present an analysis of President Obama’s farewell address, perhaps fitting today, as the final speech of our first African-American president.

But first I must say thank you to my many readers. I have recently reached many big milestones. I have now been writing this blog for more than four years. This month, in fact, is my 50th month of writing the blog. I have also recently passed the mark of having more than 400,000 total views! In 2016 alone, I had over 186,000 views, with more than 140,000 new visitors from 198 different countries. My posts on Martin Luther King’s speeches remain my most popular articles. Sadly, I still have been unsuccessful in getting my book published but I will continue to work on that this year. I am glad the blog continues to be useful to so many students, teachers and professors around the world. Thanks for reading!

Back to business…

After eight years of being the president of the United States, Barack Obama gave his farewell address this past week in a sold-out auditorium in Chicago where he began his political career. The speech was nearly an hour long, and covered many aspects of his two terms as president. He teared up near the end of the speech praising his wife Michelle for her support and leadership as first lady. He also thanked his staff for all of their hard work for many years.

Rhetorically, the speech was interesting since it is one of the few speeches by President Obama that was not confidently looking toward the future. Of course, since he was giving a farewell address, he was looking more backwards to what he had accomplished than what he would be doing in the future. However, he spent the bulk of the speech describing current threats to our democracy and asking the younger generation of Americans to save the country from those threats.

There were no soaring metaphorical passages or grandiose ideas in the speech. However, there was an amazing variety of metaphors used in the speech, once again demonstrating that it is nearly impossible to talk about politics without using dozens of common metaphors. In this case, we find examples of personification, and metaphors of vision, animals, shapes and sizes, strong chemicals, books, games, food, machines, buildings and journeys.

All examples below are from the transcript of the speech. Some quotes from the speech are repeated more than once if they contain more than one metaphor. The metaphors in question are presented in italics.  You can read the full transcript of the speech here.

Personification

It is very common to describe a country as if it is a person. This occurs in two different ways: either the government of a country or its citizens as a collective whole is imagined as a person who has a beating heart, has strength or weakness, can stand up to something, stand for something, fight back against bullies, or even buckle under pressure. The term buckle, by the way, is derived from the 16th century English word bokelen meaning “to arch the body.”

beating heart

Example: “After eight years as your President, I still believe that. And it’s not just my belief. It’s the beating heart of our American idea — our bold experiment in self-government.”

strength and weakness

Example: “And as it turned out, America wasn’t weakened by the presence of these newcomers; these newcomers embraced this nation’s creed, and this nation was strengthened.”

stand up

Example: “Whether or not we stand up for our freedoms. Whether or not we respect and enforce the rule of law. That’s up to us.”


stand for/ bullying neighbors

Example: “Rivals like Russia or China cannot match our influence around the world — unless we give up what we stand for — (applause) — and turn ourselves into just another big country that bullies smaller neighbors.”

buckle

Example: “But protecting our way of life, that’s not just the job of our military. Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear.”

Vision

Political speeches often contain metaphors of vision, i.e., speakers take the physical properties of seeing and extend those properties to abstract processes such as implementing governmental policies. Thus we have metaphors such as being in focus on something, setting sights on a goals, having a vision of a completed process or being able to describe political differences as a spectrum.

sights

Example: “…if I had told you all that, you might have said our sights were set a little too high. But that’s what we did.”

focus

Example: “That’s what I want to focus on tonight: The state of our democracy.”

vision

Example: “There’s a second threat to our democracy — and this one is as old as our nation itself. After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America. And such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic.”

spectrum

Example: “You can see it not just in statistics, you see it in the attitudes of young Americans across the political spectrum.”

Animals

Nature is one of the most common sources of political metaphors. Although we do not usually describe politicians as animals, we do use our common experiences with animals and pets to describe political positions or processes. One famous example is the lame duck, the position of the outgoing president in the time after the presidential election and before his or her successor takes office. The metaphor is derived from an old comparison to a duck that cannot walk because of an injured leg, sometimes attributed to a quote from Abraham Lincoln in 1863. In another example, we must often put our dogs on a leash to control them. When a dog or other strong animal is unleashed, it can run wild and cause unexpected consequences. Thus, metaphorically, an unexpected set of events may be described as being unleashed by a person in charge. Finally, wild animals, especially big carnivores such as wolves or tigers, jump or pounce on their prey as they try to kill it. Metaphorically, suddenly criticizing an opponent in politics may also be described as pouncing.

lame duck

Example: “You can tell that I’m a lame duck because nobody is following instructions.”

unleash

Example: “If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history…”

pounce

Example: “How do we excuse ethical lapses in our own party, but pounce when the other party does the same thing?”

Shapes and Sizes

We often describe abstract shapes in terms of well-known boxes, circles or spheres. Thus we can talk about corners of the globe, even though, of course, the world is spherical and has no corners. The world or any abstract process can also be described as a balloon that can expand or shrink depending on the air pressure inside.   We can also describe a process or an argument as if it is in the middle of a picture frame. George Lakoff has famously trained many politicians to frame arguments in certain ways to not only win the argument but become successful in achieving their political goals. Finally, we also talk about economic processes or political attitudes as being in a bubble. This term can have two metaphorical connotations. In some cases, the bubble describes an untenable set of circumstances that will eventually collapse, as when a balloon pops from too much pressure. Many experts talk about the housing bubble that burst in 2008 when housing prices suddenly fell. In other cases, a bubble refers to the close-mindedness of groups of people who only believe information given to them from like-minded friends, radio announcers or television pundits.

corner

Example: “Let me tell you, this generation coming up — unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic — I’ve seen you in every corner of the country.”

expand

Example: “That’s why we cannot withdraw from big global fights — to expand democracy, and human rights, and women’s rights, and LGBT rights.”

shrink

Example: “A shrinking world, growing inequality; demographic change and the specter of terrorism — these forces haven’t just tested our security and our prosperity, but are testing our democracy, as well.”

frame

Example: “If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and an undeserving minority, then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves.”

bubble

Example: “For too many of us, it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods or on college campuses, or places of worship, or especially our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions.”

Example: “And increasingly, we become so secure in our bubbles that we start accepting only information, whether it’s true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that is out there.”

Strong Chemicals

In an interesting and unusual metaphor, Barack Obama describes certain political processes as being corrosive, as if strong chemicals are eating away at a metal surface.

corrosive

Example: “But stark inequality is also corrosive to our democratic ideal.”

Example: “America, we weaken those ties when we allow our political dialogue to become so corrosive that people of good character aren’t even willing to enter into public service; so coarse with rancor that Americans with whom we disagree are seen not just as misguided but as malevolent.”

Literature

Political speeches often contain metaphors of literature such as telling a story, finding the correct narrative or turning the page on a new process. However, Obama’s farewell address was notably lacking in these metaphors, perhaps because his terms in office, and his narrative, are finished. However, there is one literature metaphor, opening a new chapter, used to describe his groundbreaking work to open new relations with Cuba.

new chapter

Example: “…if I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people…”

Games

Politicians are famous for comparing elections or economic processes to games or professional sports. In this case, Barack Obama describes the economy as a game that is fixed or rigged against working class Americans by corrupt politicians. He also describes the economy as a zero-sum game, a perception that the loss in wages or opportunities of the working class means huge gains for the corporations.

game

Example: “…the laid-off factory worker; the waitress or health care worker who’s just barely getting by and struggling to pay the bills — convinced that the game is fixed against them, that their government only serves the interests of the powerful — that’s a recipe for more cynicism and polarization in our politics.”

zero-sum game

Example: “And we have shown that our economy doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game.”

Food

Everyone eats so everyone is familiar with metaphors of food. A very common food metaphor used to describe a political process is to say it is a recipe as if one is baking a cake. Obama describes a theoretical government that only serves the rich and not the poor as a recipe for cynicism among our citizens. He also uses the metaphor of food scraps. After a large meal, most of the food is eaten but small portions called scraps may remain. Historically, in rich British and American families, the family members ate the main portion of the meal while the servants or the dogs were given the scraps. In cases of extreme hunger, poor people even had to fight for scraps just to get enough to eat.

recipe

Example: “…the waitress or health care worker who’s just barely getting by and struggling to pay the bills — convinced that the game is fixed against them, that their government only serves the interests of the powerful — that’s a recipe for more cynicism and polarization in our politics.”

scraps

Example: “If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and an undeserving minority, then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves.”

Machines

Government programs and political processes are often compared to machines that can crank out the same results time after time. In this case, Obama refers to terrorists as groups with a propaganda machine distorting truth and lies. Economic processes can also be compared to computers. When a computer stops working it may need to be restarted or rebooted to get it going again. Obama uses the idea of rebooting to describe his administration’s success in saving the auto industry. A complex machine can also be shut down if it is getting out of control. Obama uses this metaphor to describe his work to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program.   Finally, sometimes machines break down and must be repaired or fixed. Metaphorically we can describe broken economic or political processes as something that can be fixed.

machine

Example: “It represents the fear of change; the fear of people who look or speak or pray differently; a contempt for the rule of law that holds leaders accountable; an intolerance of dissent and free thought; a belief that the sword or the gun or the bomb or the propaganda machine is the ultimate arbiter of what’s true and what’s right.”

reboot

Example: “If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history…”

 

shut down

Example: “…shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot…”

fix

Example: “But there are no quick fixes to this long-term trend.”

Buildings

Yet another common rhetorical strategy in political speeches is to compare governmental processes to buildings. The idea of physically constructing a building is used to describe abstracting creating political processes. In this case, Obama describes the necessity of rebuilding our democratic institutions. In an unusual metaphor, Obama also quotes George Washington’s farewell address in which he talked about the underpinning of democratic rights. The term underpinning originally referred to the materials used to create the foundation of a building or a bridge. Metaphorically anything that supports or sustains a process or programs can be described as an underpinning.

rebuild

Example: “All of us, regardless of party, should be throwing ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions.”

underpinning

Example: “In his own farewell address, George Washington wrote that self-government is the underpinning of our safety, prosperity, and liberty, but ‘from different causes and from different quarters much pains will be taken…to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth.’”

Journey

The final set of metaphors worth mentioning is that of a journey. Readers of this blog are well aware that journey metaphors are almost ubiquitous in political speeches since the speaker rhetorically wants to demonstrate to the audience that he or she is making progress towards goals that will be of benefit to them as if proceeding on a grand journey. Journey metaphors can be quite complex, and Obama uses a wide variety of them in his speech. In one case, one can describe a process as if people are walking along a road. One can meet people along the way, or approach a destination. Thus metaphorically, we can say that one can approach a problem or meet a challenge. In another case, people travelling as a group must be careful not to leave anyone behind when they take off. Metaphorically people can be left behind economically if they do not have living wage jobs. We can also talk about the speed at which one travels. Thus we can talk about the pace of an ongoing process as if it is a vehicle travelling down the road. And of course, one does not want to go in reverse when trying to reach a destination. But we can also speak of reversing a bad trend to make things better for the American people.  More commonly, we talk about achieving a goal as if we are taking steps along a path. Obama shares his frustration of not achieving as much as he wanted to by describing it as taking two steps forward and one step back, even though he claims that the country is still going in a forward motion. Captains of ships set a course when they set sail towards a new destination. Thus, we can talk about a journey as a long course of action. Finally, Obama uses a colorful phrase derived from an essay from Ralph Waldo Emerson, that of hitching one’s wagon to a star to achieve great things in life. Obama encourages young Americans to hitch their wagon to something bigger than themselves.

approach

Example: “Now, we can and should argue about the best approach to solve the problem. But to simply deny the problem not only betrays future generations, it betrays the essential spirit of this country — the essential spirit of innovation and practical problem-solving that guided our Founders.”

meet

Example: “We have everything we need to meet those challenges.”

left behind

Example: “While the top one percent has amassed a bigger share of wealth and income, too many families, in inner cities and in rural counties, have been left behind…”

pace

Example: “It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes a lot of good, middle-class jobs obsolete.”

reverse

Example: “If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession…”

steps/forward motion

Example: “For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back. But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all and not just some.”

course

Example: “Over the course of these eight years, I’ve seen the hopeful faces of young graduates and our newest military officers.”

journey

Example: “America is no fragile thing. But the gains of our long journey to freedom are not assured.”

hitch your wagon

Example: “Because I know our work has not only helped so many Americans, it has inspired so many Americans — especially so many young people out there — to believe that you can make a difference — (applause) — to hitch your wagon to something bigger than yourselves.”

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Barack Obama’s farewell address was a poignant description of his past accomplishments and his hopes for the future. While not deliberately grandiose with few rhetorical flourishes, the speech succeeded in pleasing his supporters in reminding them of his successes as the 44th president. As I hopefully have described here, the speech also contained a wide variety of political metaphors that illustrate how we conceptualize political processes. I look forward to analyzing the speeches of Donald Trump as he takes office this week.

Draining the Swamp?

One of the most common metaphors one hears in the news today is the idea of draining the swamp. During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump pledged that, if he were elected, he would drain the swamp, meaning that he would fire all of the politicians in Washington D.C. who were negative influences on the government. No one was exactly sure what he meant, but many us assumed that he was referring to career politicians, lobbyists, and those too closely connected to Wall Street and large corporations.

blog-nature-swamp-1This phrase is not new in politics. Originally it was derived from the physical draining of the water in a swamp where mosquitos were breeding and causing malaria or other diseases. In 1983, Ronald Reagan called for draining the swamp of bureaucrats in Washington D.C. while in 2006, Nancy Pelosi wanted to drain the swamp of Republican politicians in the U.S. government. Many other colorful examples can be found in a wonderful summary here.

Despite Donald Trump’s promise to rid the government of career politicians and lobbyists, he has so far named five millionaires and billionaires to his cabinet, including Steven Mnuchin, a Goldman Sachs executive as Secretary of the Treasury, billionaire businessman Wilbur Ross as Secretary of Commerce, billionaire Republican supporter Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s wife Elaine Chao as Secretary of Transportation.

While many Republicans are applauding these recent choices due to their business experience, other conservatives are not so supportive. In a recent interview, conservative radio host Mark Levin complained, “This is not Trump draining the swamp. This is the swamp draining Trump.”

blog-nature-swamp-alligatorDemocratic Senator from Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren was even more blunt in an address two weeks ago. “Trump is not draining the swamp, nope. He’s inviting the biggest, ugliest swamp monsters in the front door, and he’s turning them loose on our government and our economy.”

Many of the cabinet choices require Senate confirmation so these candidates are not officially hired quite yet. In the meantime, we will see if President-elect Trump continues to appoint Washington and Wall Street insiders to this cabinet.

We have several other metaphors based on swamps, marshes and bogs. Here are a few examples for your reading pleasure.

blog-nature-swamp-2
swamped

Many areas of the earth are covered in a mixture of water and soil in areas known as swamps, bogs, marshes or wetlands. Some of these terms are used metaphorically to indicate the difficulty in getting out of complicated situations. In one case, we say we are swamped with work if we cannot keep up with all the tasks that we are required to do at a certain time.

Example: In July 2011, President Obama asked Americans to call their members of Congress if they wanted to make a suggestion on how to reduce the national deficit. As a result, the phones of many Senators and Congresspersons were swamped with calls for several days.

blog-nature-mud-and-bootsbogged down

A bog is a type of marsh, a large area covered in water that is difficult to cross. In a similar sense, a person who cannot make good progress in a situation may be described as being bogged down.

Example: Much to the dismay of American voters, progress in Congress is often bogged down by disagreements between Democrats and Republicans.

 

 

mired

A mire is another word for bog or swamp. Metaphorically, a person who is mired in something cannot make progress in a certain situation.

Example: American politics is commonly mired in ideological differences between liberals and conservatives.

quagmire

A quagmire is another old world meaning a bog or marsh. In common terms, a quagmire is any difficult situation that is almost impossible to get out of.

Example: After the difficulties during the War in Vietnam, many Americans felt in 2003 that the War in Iraq would be another quagmire that would cost millions of dollars and many lives.

blog-nature-quicksand-warningquicksand

Quicksand is an especially dangerous mixture of water and sand that traps a person. The more one moves to get out, the more trapped one becomes. People die every year from being trapped in quicksand. Metaphorically, quicksand refers to any situation that looks safe but is actually a trap or a dangerous situation that one cannot escape from easily.

Example: During the revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa that sprang up in 2011, most Americans were against any military involvement in those areas claiming it would be quicksand for our troops.

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To me it seems pretty sad that our government is described both as a swamp of evil creatures and as a place where we cannot easily escape with our lives. One can only hope that the new Trump administration somehow makes improvements in the effectiveness of our government working for the American people.

A Seismic Election – Trump Wins!

This past week, Donald Trump won the 2016 election, much to the surprise of most of the country. In fact, the result was so unexpected that most television, radio and print media reporters described it as a shock, a tsunami, an earthquake or a seismic election. It is not surprising that elections are described in terms of natural disasters. I have written about some of these examples in a previous post. This time, the usage is a bit different.

When one candidate wins the election by a large margin, we sometimes say that he or she won in a landslide, as if the election results came down a mountain after a heavy rain. However, in the most recent election, the margin of victory was very slim. In fact, it seems that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but Donald Trump won the electoral vote – a slim margin indeed. Since everyone was surprised that Donald Trump won the election, there were other examples of natural disasters to describe the unexpected results. Here are a few examples (italics are mine). The source of each quotation is provided below each example.

blog-trump-tsunami-wavetsunami

A tsunami is a huge ocean wave that devastates coastal communities as happened in Indonesia in 2004 and in Japan in 2011. Metaphorically, the word tsunami is used similarly to the term flood indicating a large amount of something happening quickly.

Example: Headline: The Pollster Who Foretold the Trump Tsunami : Robert Cahaly, derided by Nate Silver as a C-rate pollster, gets the last laugh on 2016 (http://www.lifezette.com/polizette/pollster-foretold-trump-tsunami/)

 

tremors/earthquakes

Earthquakes are caused by shifts in the earth’s crust or continental plates. Tremors are smaller quakes that happen before or after a major earthquake. Metaphorically, earthquakes and tremors can describe important events that happen in an organization that change the normal course of activities.

Example: Headline: ‘A complete earthquake’: Joe Scarborough reacts to Trump winning the presidency (http://www.businessinsider.com/joe-scarborough-donald-trump-2016-11) 

shock

The word shock has several different meanings. One can experience shock from an electrical outlet or a violent impact in a collision. There can also be shocks or aftershocks after an earthquake. There were many people who were shocked by the Trump victory this week.

Example: Headline: Donald Trump’s Victory Is Met With Shock Across a Wide Political Divide (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/10/us/politics/donald-trump-election-reaction.html?_r=0)

blog-trump-earthquake

seismic

The word seismic describes the level of movement in the earth’s crust during an earthquake. Metaphorically, any event that has deep and widespread effects on people or organizations may also be described as seismic. 

Example: Headline: Trump maps out a new administration to bring a seismic shift to Washington (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-maps-out-a-new-administration-to-bring-a-seismic-shift-to-washington/2016/11/09/8bb6629e-a6a6-11e6-8fc0-7be8f848c492_story.html)

blog-trump-eruptionerupt/eruption

When a volcano explodes, this is called an eruption. In common terms, anything that happens quickly without notice may be called an eruption.

Example: The eruption of shock, outrage, and action post-election is yet another parallel to Brexit. (https://thinkprogress.org/anti-trump-protests-sweep-the-nation-65b7b836457c#.thzsvjy9e)

flood

When a river overflows its banks, the surrounding countryside, towns, and cities can be flooded with water. As a metaphor, the concept of flooding is used to describe a large amount of something that covers a wide area.

Example: Headline: Thousands of outraged protesters flood streets across America to oppose President-elect Donald Trump (http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/angry-protesters-flood-nyc-streets-oppose-trump-election-win-article-1.2866671)

blog-trump-floodfloodgates

In some areas, rivers are dammed up and the water is held back with gates. When the water reaches a high level, the floodgates may be opened to release the pressure. Metaphorically, opening the floodgates means that a large amount of information or many actions are suddenly released.

Example: The predatory practices of the Washington elite were actively supported by congressional carpetbaggers who approved legislation that opened the floodgates to every imaginable form of financial manipulation. (http://www.atimes.com/trump-undermines-americas-already-tattered-authority/)

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Once again, we can see how our experience with nature, or in this case, natural disasters creates metaphors that we can use to describe political events. Sadly, New Zealand just suffered a 7.8 earthquake early this morning, with possible tsunami waves striking the coast. Fortunately, only two people were killed based on current news reports. The use of such violent metaphors of natural disasters indicate how traumatic the Trump victory has been to many Americans. Stay tuned for more interesting metaphors used to describe the Trump presidency.

A Rigged Election?

This past summer, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were tied in many national polls. More recently, however, Trump has been slipping in the polls due to the release of tapes of him making disparaging remarks about women, and many women coming forward accusing him of inappropriate behavior in years past. Donald Trump has denied all of the allegations, and has often repeated a complaint that the entire election is rigged against him, implying that the Democrats are somehow plotting to steal the election. Trump’s running mate Mike Pence has also suggested that the election is rigged. During the Democratic primary, supporters of Bernie Sanders also complained that the primary process was rigged in favor of Hillary Clinton.

blog-rigging-on-ships-3

The word rig has an interesting etymology. The word originally referred to the way that ropes were used to secure sails on a ship, a process dating back to the 15th century. The word also referred to a process of tricking or swindling someone, dating to 1775. Although one could argue that the more modern connotation is a completely different word, I believe that the idea of swindling is related to the original idea of using rigging ropes. Swindling someone involves an intelligent process of tying up many details that allow someone to trick other people. The idea of rigging an election requires a complex process of manipulating many details of election procedures. In any case, I would like to offer several other political metaphors derived from the specialized vocabulary of sailing ships.

captain

The person in charge of a ship is usually called the captain. Metaphorically, and sometimes jokingly, any person in command of an organization may be called a captain.

Example: When a candidate is elected president, her or she becomes the captain of the ship of the United States.

blog-sailing-wheelhousewheelhouse

The compartment of a ship where the pilot controls the steering wheel and navigation equipment is called the pilothouse or wheelhouse. In baseball, the area of the plate in which a certain batter can hit the ball is also called the wheelhouse. Thus, a good batter can get a hit if the ball is thrown into his wheelhouse. Metaphorically, a person’s area of expertise may be called his or her wheelhouse.

Example: Barack Obama’s supporters claim he can win a debate on foreign policy because that is his wheelhouse.

bring on board

When a ship takes on passengers or freight for a trip, we say that they are brought on board the ship. Metaphorically, when people are hired to work in an organization, we may also say that they are brought on board.

Example: A presidential candidate usually brings good advisors on board when he or she begins a long campaign.

miss the boat

Ships must keep tight schedules when traveling from port to port. If passengers are taking a ship, they must get there on time. If not, they will literally miss the boat. Metaphorically, the phrase to miss the boat means to miss an opportunity to do something.

Example: Somehow the U.S. defense department missed the boat and did not prevent Osama bin Laden from attacking New York in 2001.

embark on

When passengers do board a ship and leave port, we say that they are embarking on a journey. Metaphorically, whenever people begin a new project we may say that they are embarking on a new journey.

Example: A newly elected president embarks on a four-year journey in the White House.

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learn the ropes

Before the days of steam-powered or gasoline-powered engines, ships traveled across the oceans on wind power. Complex sets of sails were controlled by men pulling on ropes to get the sails in the correct position for maximum effectiveness at catching the wind. We have many metaphors in English from this difficult work of controlling these ropes. In one of these expressions, learning how to manage the sails was referred to as learning the ropes. In modern English, the phrase learning the ropes refers to the process of learning any new task.

Example: When Hillary Clinton became Secretary of State in 2008, she had to learn the ropes of complex international diplomacy.

pick up the slack

When ropes become loose, this is called becoming slack. To tighten the rope, people must do what is called pick up the slack. In metaphorical terms, helping a group of people complete a project when they are shorthanded is called picking up the slack.

Example: When the U.S. government cuts federal spending, state governments often have to pick up the slack to fund education and other social programs.

cut some slack

When one has the opposite problem of having a rope that is too tight, one must loosen it in a process we call cutting some slack. In common slang, whenever we need people to be lenient or allow more freedom in a certain process, we may ask for them to cut them some slack.

Example: When Richard Nixon was involved in the Watergate Scandal of the early 1970s, very few people were willing to cut him some slack. Most Americans were pleased when he resigned from office.

blog-sailing-loose-endsloose ends

Ropes used to control the sails had to be tightly secured to the ship. If they ropes were not tight, they were described as having loose ends. In yet another sailing metaphor, if a situation is chaotic or unorganized, we may say that the people involved are at loose ends.

Example: A good presidential candidate must tie up all loose ends in the campaign in order to win an election.

smooth sailing

When the weather is good and the ship is traveling safely, we say that there is smooth sailing. In common terms, any process that is working well may be referred to as smooth sailing.

Example: President Obama did not have smooth sailing in his first few years as president as he had to manage many different economic crises.

blog-sailing-anchornews anchor

When a boat or ship wants to fix its position in the water, the crew drops a heavy metal hook called an anchor into the water. Metaphorically, the concept of anchor has many uses in English. In one metaphor the person who holds the prominent position in a team of TV reporters is called the anchorman, or simply the news anchor.

Example: During a presidential election, TV news anchors work overtime providing the public with the latest information.

anchor of the team

In a similar sense, a person who is the leader of a group of individuals may be called the anchor of the team.

Example: For the last several elections, Karl Rove has been the anchor of the team of strategists helping Republican candidates win their races around the country.

anchor babies

When illegal aliens have children in the United States, these children are sometimes called anchor babies since the parents are then allowed to stay in the country and become eligible for government benefits. This phrase is considered pejorative and not used in normal speech.

Example: Some Americans claim that anchor babies cost the government millions of dollars in health care and social programs.

blog-sailing-harborharbor terrorists

When a ship arrives in a port, it will seek safety in a harbor where there are shallow waters, few waves, and access to land. Metaphorically, the term harbor is also used as a verb meaning to provide safety for someone.

Example: Most allies of the U.S. government do not harbor terrorists. They are arrested and brought to trial.

harbor resentment

In a similar sense, another meaning of the verb harbor is to hold a specific feeling or attitude about something for a long time. In a common phrase, people may harbor resentment against someone who has hurt them in some way.

Example: Some Vietnam veterans still harbor resentment against the U.S. government for treating them so poorly when they returned from combat in the 1960s and 1970s.

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These are just a few of the metaphors derived from sailing ships. The idea of rigging an election may be derived from the process of rigging the sails many centuries ago. It is interesting that we still use words to describe political processes that originated in other fields many years ago. As Trump and Clinton come to the end of the campaign for the presidential election with only a few weeks to go, I wonder if Mr. Trump will continue to complain that the election is rigged.

Passing the Baton

With the 2016 Summer Olympics underway in Rio de Janeiro, I thought it was worth mentioning again a few metaphors from the exciting sport of track and field. One of the most common metaphors used during the Democratic National Convention a few weeks ago was the idea that Barack Obama was passing the baton to Hillary Clinton if she were elected to be the next president of the United States, as if they were both in a relay race during the Olympics.   Here are a few more metaphors derived from track and field sporting events.

blog - sports - Track_and_Field_ runnersthe first heat

In sprint and long-distance running competitions, runners often compete in many preliminary races called heats to determine who will be the finalists for the last race. Thus the first heat is the first race of the competition. Figuratively, the first step of a long competitive process may also be called the first heat.

Example: The Republican primaries of 2016 were the first heat to determine who was going to be the nominee to face the Democratic nominee in the November election.

blog - sports - hurdlingthe biggest hurdle

Some races require the runners to jump over wooden bars set up on the track called hurdles. Metaphorically, any obstacle or barrier to progress may be called a hurdle.

Example: Many pundits agreed that high unemployment rates presented Barack Obama with the biggest hurdle to getting reelected in 2012.

lap

In a long-distance race, runners have to run around a track many times to complete a race. Each time around the track is called a lap. In some cases, very fast runners will actually catch up and pass slow runners so that they are one full lap ahead of them. The slow runners are described as being lapped. In politics, people can be described as being lapped if one greatly outperforms the other.

Example: In the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton lapped Donald Trump several times in terms of fundraising and corporate donations.

blog - sports - pole vaultvault to, vault over

In a specialized sport, an athlete runs with a long pole, plants it in the ground and uses it to lift himself or herself over a very tall bar. This sport is called the pole vault. The action of jumping in the air with the pole is called vaulting over the bar. Figuratively, when a person has great unexpected success in one area, we may say that he or she has vaulted to a new level of success. When a person faces a large problem, we may also that he or she can vault over the obstacle.

Example: In the 1980 presidential election, Ronald Reagan vaulted to the lead and beat his opponent Jimmy Carter by a wide margin.

lower the bar

When a pole vaulter is training, it may be difficult to vault over high settings of the bar. Instead, the trainer may need to lower the bar so that the athlete can succeed in making the vault. Metaphorically, lowering the bar means to lower expectations for a certain person, project or program.

Example: After many long years of war in Afghanistan, both George W. Bush and Barack Obama seemed to lower the bar to define how one would declare victory there.

jump or leap to conclusions

In another specialized track and field sport called long jumping, athletes must run as fast as they can and jump as far as they can. They must make a great leap to beat their opponents. This notion of leaping can also be used in a metaphorical phrase leap or jump to conclusions meaning that one assumes an end result of some process without knowing the facts.

Example: On election night, many television viewers can get frustrated with reporters who leap to conclusions and announce the winners before all of the voting results are in.

 

070422-N-5215E-003 ANNAPOLIS, Md. (April 22, 2007) - A Special Olympics athlete participates in the long jump at the Naval Academy. This was the 39th year the Academy hosted the event, which drew 175 athletes from the surrounding area for two days of aquatics and track and field competition. More than 300 Midshipmen, active duty service members, and Annapolis-area high school students volunteered as event staff and athlete escorts for the event. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Matthew A. Ebarb (RELEASED)
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (April 22, 2007) – A Special Olympics athlete participates in the long jump at the Naval Academy. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Matthew A. Ebarb (RELEASED)

fall short

Some sports, such as the long jump competition in track and field, require athletes to jump long distances. When an athlete does not jump as far as his opponents have jumped in a competition, we may say that he or she has fallen short of the goal. This phrase is also used in archery when an arrow falls short of reaching the target. In a common phrase, when someone does not meet expectations or success at the proposed goals, we may say that he or she has fallen short.

Example: Many progressives feel that Barack Obama fell short in reaching liberals goals for civil rights in the first few years of his presidency.

track record

The fastest speed of a runner (or car or horse) is literally called the track record. Politicians may also have track records in the way that they vote on particular issues.

Example: Senator John McCain, a former prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, has had a good track record of supporting veterans after they return from foreign wars.

U.S. Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Course (NJROTC) cadets hand off batons during a 8x220-yard relay race on Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., April 17, 2009, during the 2009 NJROTC National Academic, Athletic and Drill competition. Units from 25 high schools, in 13 states, competed in personnel inspections, academic tests, military drill, and athletic events. (U.S. Navy photo by Scott A. Thornbloom/Released)
U.S. Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Course (NJROTC) cadets hand off batons during a 8×220-yard relay race on Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., April 17, 2009 (U.S. Navy photo by Scott A. Thornbloom /Released)

pass the baton

In relay races at track and field events, runners carry a short bar called a baton as they run. When each runner finishes his or her section of the race, he or she passes the baton to the next runner, who passes it to the following runner, etc., until the race is complete. In business or politics, a person who steps down from a position of authority can be said to pass the baton to his or her successor.

 

 

Example: During the Democratic National Convention in 2016, some journalists wrote that Barack Obama would be passing the baton to Hillary Clinton if she were to win the presidential election in November.

Bernie Sanders’ Uphill Battle

Many newspaper and television reports have recently described Bernie Sanders’ quest for the Democratic nominee as an uphill battle. It seems that Hillary Clinton has an insurmountable lead in the votes and delegates to win the nomination. The phrase uphill battle is an interesting metaphor in this usage for several reasons. At first glance, it seems that it is a mixed metaphor, mixing journeys and military concepts. Technically, there is such a thing as an uphill battle, one in which an army must fight an enemy while moving up a hill or mountain. However, it is more likely that we think of this as a sort of compound metaphor combining the physical struggle of walking uphill with the danger of fighting a battle in a war. This compound metaphor makes us think of obstacles to journeys and military campaigns. I have described some of these metaphors in past blogs, but it is interesting to see how they are combined into one conceptual metaphor. Here is a review of metaphors of obstacles on a journey and military battles.

blog - military - uphill battle

Obstacles on a Journey

obstacles

On some journeys, there may be obstacles or things that prevent continuous progress, such as animals crossing the road, snow or rocks falling on the road, or bad weather conditions. Metaphorically, there may also be obstacles to continuous progress for the success of a program or any process.

Example: Barack Obama had to overcome many obstacles in his path to becoming the first African-American president including growing up poor, not having a father, and succeeding in an environment dominated by white politicians.

block

A block is a large log, brick or any compacted mass. A block can literally prevent the passage along a journey or prevent progress in an endeavor.

Example: Unfortunately, when a Republican president is in office, the Democrats often block the passage of the Republican bills, while Republicans often block the passage of Democratic bills when a Democrat is in office.

blog - journey - barrierroadblocks

Similar to the idea of obstacles, roadblocks can literally block the continuous progress on a journey or metaphorically block the progress of a program.

Example: In the first two years of Barack Obama’s presidency, the Republicans seemed determined to prevent any success of the Democrats so they put up many roadblocks in Congress.

stumble, stumbling block

A person can also trip or stumble on a branch or a brick in the path along a journey. Metaphorically, one can also stumble or have to overcome a stumbling block in the middle of a process.

Example: President Obama encountered many stumbling blocks from the Republicans and insurance companies when trying to pass health care reform in 2010.

blog - journey - Rockslide_at_Oddicombeimpasse

When one cannot continue on a journey because of a road being completely blocked by a natural disaster, we say that we have met an impasse, literally something that blocks the passage of a person.

Example: When Bill Clinton tried to pass health care reform in 1994, he ran into an impasse with insurance companies and other politicians and failed to pass any new legislation.

break down barriers

Another word for a roadblock is a barrier. To continue on a journey, one may have to break down the barriers. Metaphorically, one may also need to break down barriers to make progress in a process.

Example: Barack Obama had to break down many race barriers on his way to become the first African-American president of the United States.

blog - width - Trinity_Bridge_-_span_of_a_bridgebridge, bridge builder, bridge the divide, bridge the gulf

If one needs to cross a river or a valley during a journey, one may need to build a bridge to be able to continue the journey. Literally, this is called bridging the divide or bridging the gulf.

Metaphorically, when two people or groups cannot agree on something, someone may offer a compromise to solve the problem. This may also be called bridging the divide. The person who does this may be called a bridge or a bridge builder.

Example: Sometimes a U.S. president may need to bridge the divide between the Republican and Democratic members of Congress.

clear the way

Sometimes, if a road is blocked, one must clear the branches, wood or rocks away before one can continue. This process is referred to as clearing the way. In common terms, we can also clear the way for a process to continue after it had been delayed.

Example: In the 1960s, the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. cleared the way for the civil rights laws that were passed later that decade.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERApotholes to fill

Paved roads in cities often develop holes after many years of traffic and bad weather. Some of these holes are so big people say that they are as big as a cooking pot. City crews must fill the so-called potholes so that people can continue to drive on these roads without hurting their vehicles. Metaphorically, any process that has many difficulties or delays may be described as having many potholes to fill especially when used with another road metaphor.

Example: After the economic crisis of 2008, President Obama had many potholes to fill on the road to recovery considering problems with the banks, corporations and high unemployment.

sidestep

Some obstacles in the road are very small and can simply be avoided by walking around them. We can call this action sidestepping the obstacle. In common terms, we also say that one can sidestep a problem or an issue by not dealing with it directly.

Example: Many candidates running for office sidestep controversial issues such as abortion and gay marriage.

recourse

A course is a route that one follows on a journey. The route to return to the starting point of a journey may be called a recourse. Metaphorically, a recourse is something that one must consider when the first plan does not work.

Example: After years of fighting a war in Afghanistan, the U.S. government had little recourse when their military could not defeat the Taliban there.

blog - journey - uphill elephantlong, uphill task/struggle/battle

Walking on a level road is easy; walking uphill is more difficult. Metaphorically, a difficult task may be called an uphill struggle or an uphill battle.

Example: When John McCain returned to the United States after being a prisoner of war in Vietnam for several years, he had an uphill struggle to regain his health and his military career.

look beyond/move beyond

On a long journey with many hills, one must try to look over or look beyond the hills to see the rest of the road. In common terms, one must look or move beyond an obstacle to solve a problem.

Example: After many lost seats in the 2014 midterm elections, Democrats had to look beyond their losses and plan for the 2016 presidential election.

 

Battles

The Battle of New Orleans - Andrew Jackson wins the final battle of the War of 1812 on January 8, 1815 (painting by Edward Percy Moran, 1910)
The Battle of New Orleans – Andrew Jackson wins the final battle of the War of 1812 on January 8, 1815 (painting by Edward Percy Moran, 1910)

primary battles

Battles are the names of the primary engagements between armies in a war. Metaphorically, battles can also be fought verbally between people or groups. The notion of battle is commonly used in politics.

Example: In every presidential primary, there are many battles among the candidates to gain the nomination of the party.

 

battle cry

At the start of every battle, there is a call or cry from the commanding officer to alert the troops to begin fighting. The phrase battle cry can also be used to indicate the beginning of a political process.

Example: In 2011, the Occupy Wall Street protestors used the slogan “We are the 99%! as their battle cry to gain support against the richest 1% of the nation controlling the government.

battleground states

The land where battles are fought are called battlegrounds. In politics, states in which voters may vote for either Democrats or Republicans are called battleground states when candidates fight for the votes for their party.

Example: Ohio and Florida are often considered battleground states in presidential elections.

The Battle of Cedar Mountain, Virginia, August 9, 1862 - Currier and Ives, 1862
The Battle of Cedar Mountain, Virginia, August 9, 1862 – Currier and Ives, 1862

battle lines are drawn

The exact line separating the land controlled by two fighting armies is called the battle line. Metaphorically, a battle line is the ideological separation between two people or groups. In a public political argument, we may say that battle lines are drawn based on a certain view of a controversial topic.

Example: In the 2016 election, Democrats drew many battles lines with Republicans over the tax breaks given to millionaires and billionaires.

combat

Combat is another word for battles fought between armies in a war. Metaphorically, any verbal argument can be described as combat as well. As a verb the word combat can be used to describe efforts to fight against something.

Example: George W. Bush worked hard to combat the spread of AIDS in Africa during his presidency.

Members of Co. C, 1st Bn, 8th Inf, 1st Bde, 4th Inf Div, descend the side of Hill 742, located five miles northwest of Dak To. 14–17 November 1967.
Members of Co. C, 1st Bn, 8th Inf, 1st Bde, 4th Inf Div, descend the side of Hill 742, located five miles northwest of Dak To. 14–17 November 1967.

firefight

A firefight is an intense battle between two armies in which a great deal of gunfire is exchanged. In politics, a heated argument may also be called a firefight.

Example: Sometimes a peaceful presidential debate turns into a firefight among the top candidates.

 

 

 

clash

The word clash is an onomatopoetic word meaning that it represents the sound made by two metallic objects hitting together. A physical confrontation between people or battle between armies may be called a clash. However, metaphorically, a disagreement in words or ideas between two people or groups may also be called a clash. Often we speak of a clash of personalities between two people.

Example: During the 2016 Democratic presidential primary, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders clashed over positions on the economy.

*******

As I have mentioned many times, political campaigns are thought of as military operations, judging by the amount of war metaphors we used to describe them. The process of winning a nomination or becoming elected is also thought of as a long journey filled with obstacles. When a candidate struggles to win a nomination for his or her party, it is logical that the process be called an uphill battle.

Playing the Woman’s Card

This past week, Donald Trump claimed that Hillary Clinton was “playing the woman’s card” and would not even get 5% of the vote if she were a man. Critics quickly pounced on this sexist comment. Hillary Clinton may have the last laugh, however, since her campaign claims to have raised $2.4 million dollars as a backlash to the comment. For me, the idea of “playing the woman’s card” reminds me of the popular use of the metaphors of games in American politics. I have mentioned some of these metaphors previously, but they are worth mentioning again.

Also, this past weekend on the television news show Meet the Press (May 1, 2016) the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin described the problems in the Middle East as follows: “This is like three-dimensional chess. And most of us are playing checkers at understanding foreign policy right now.” These types of metaphors are derived from our experiences with board games. Let’s have another look at some metaphors derived from games.

Card Games

follow suit

A normal deck of playing cards has 52 cards in four suits: clubs, spades, hearts and diamonds. In some games, a player must put down a card on his or her turn that matches the suit of the previous card. This is called following suit. Metaphorically, one can follow suit by doing the same thing that a previous person has done. In politics, a president may follow suit with a certain program or policy that was already in place when he or she became president.

Example: When Barack Obama became president in 2008, he followed suit with George Bush’s policy in Afghanistan, increasing the number of troops there and stepping up efforts to find Osama bin Laden.

blog - cards - Royal_Flushstrong suit

As with the idea of following suit, we would say that a person with many good cards in any suit would have a strong suit, e.g., an ace, king and queen in spades would mean a strong suit of spades. In metaphorical terms, a person’s strong suit is his or her special talent that is superior to the competitor’s abilities.

Example: When George W. Bush was president, he had a talent of appearing to be a regular guy, with rolled up shirtsleeves and speaking plainly. It was such a strong suit for him, he used it many times when giving speeches or press conferences to earn confidence from American citizens.

trump, trump card

In some card games, a certain card may have more value than all the others. This is often called the trump card. In politics, one can trump an opponent or play the trump card to beat an opponent in an election, debate or discussion.

Example: In the 2008, John McCain thought he had the trump card to win the presidential election when he asked Sarah Palin to be his running mate, but they were not able to win a trip to the White House.

blog - games - 2 cardwild card

Some card games also have a card that is designated as a wild card, i.e., one that can take on the value of a higher ranked card if it is to the advantage of the player who holds it. For example, in the game of deuces wild, a 2 card can have the value of an ace, king or queen if it helps the player win the hand. The difficult part of this type of game is that no one knows when the wild card will appear or how the player will use it, so it could be a surprise to everyone when it happens. In politics, a wild card is a person, program or policy that has unexpected power in a certain situation.

Example: In the 2010 midterm elections, the tea party candidates were often considered wild cards since they were not experienced politicians and no one was sure if they could win elections or not.

race card

In card games, one usually plays a card that will help him or her win the hand or the game. Thus to play a card means to do something to your advantage. In politics, the idea of playing a race card arose when people talked about African-American candidates winning elections because of their race, not their qualifications.

Example: In the 2008 election, some supporters of Barack Obama were accused of playing the race card when they urged people to help him become the first African-American president.

age card

In a similar sense, someone may be accused of playing the so-called age card if they urge people to vote for a candidate because of his or her age and experience and not the qualifications.

Example: Some supporters of John McCain who pointed out the young age and political inexperience of Barack Obama were thought to be playing the age card.

woman’s card

Also, female candidates may be accused of playing the woman’s card.

Example: In the 2016 primaries, Donald Trump accused Hillary Clinton of playing the woman’s card.

blog - games - Card_shufflereshuffle the cards

When people play cards, the deck must be shuffled before each new deal. This ensures that the same cards are not dealt out in the same way more than once. When we speak of politics of being a card game, we may say that we need to reshuffle the cards when there has been an unexpected turn of events. Reshuffling the cards means one of two things: 1) there has been a change in the policies or personnel of a certain government agency, or 2) someone must reorganize a current situation to bring a new balance and order to the problem.

Example: When a U.S. president is elected to two consecutive terms, he or she might reshuffle the cards of the cabinet or other key positions at the beginning of the second term.

overplay the hand

In some card games, it is sometimes better not to reveal if you have a very good hand of cards. One must be prudent and not try to win the game all at one time. One must be patient and use strategy to win the game in several steps. In politics, we might say that people overplay their hand if they try to push an issue too hard all at once instead of waiting for the diplomatic process to work.

Example: In 2009, some Middle East experts said that Iran might be overplaying its hand by claiming it was going to build a nuclear bomb. Many other countries began to take a stronger stance against Iran instead of trying to work with them on diplomatic issues.

Chess

gambit

In a chess game, a player may sacrifice a small-value piece such as a pawn in hopes of winning a large-value piece such as a knight or bishop. This strategy is called a gambit.

Example: President Obama’s gambit of working with Pakistan to end the war in Afghanistan may take years to see any results.

blog - games - chessstalemate

When two chess players are tied and neither player can win, this is called a stalemate. In politics, when two political parties, two candidates or any two persons cannot find a solution to a problem, this may also be called a stalemate.

Example: For the past several decades, many U.S. presidents have tried to end the stalemate between Israel and Palestine with limited success.

the endgame

When a game of chess is completed, this is simply called the end of the game or the endgame. In common terms, an endgame has come to mean the objective or primary goal of a policy or approach to solving a problem.

Example: When the war in Afghanistan dragged on for more than ten years, many Americans wondered what the endgame really was for our troops there.

Board Games and Puzzles

blog - games - jigsaw puzzlepuzzle/puzzling over

There are many types of board games and puzzles that people enjoy all over the world. Crossword and jigsaw puzzles are popular games that require a great deal of patience and intelligence to complete. The word puzzle formerly referred only to the game itself. Now it can also signify the action of being confused. In politics, many difficult situations can be puzzling to politicians and citizens alike.

Example: After the 9/11 terrorist acts in New York city, many Americans puzzled over why they were the target of such a vicious attack.

turn the tables

Board games are often played on tables. In some cases, the board can only be read in one direction. Thus a player may have to turn the board around to read all parts of the game when it is his or her turn. This is sometimes referred to as turning the tables. In common terms, when someone has changed a situation to his or her advantage, this is also called turning the tables.

Example: In the 2010 health reform bill, President Obama tried to turn the tables on the health insurance industry and give back some power and choice to consumers.

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It is interesting that our everyday experiences with games translates into many creative metaphors.  However, it is not merely the aspect of a fun game that we are thinking about when we create metaphors.  Rather it is more in the competitive nature of games that is easily compared to politics and elections.  Stay tuned for more interesting metaphors in the news! blog - games - cards and chips

 

Latch on!

In the past few weeks, I have heard the expression of people latching on to different presidential candidates and supporting their campaigns. It is very common for us to use expressions of physical forces to describe abstract processes. In previous posts I have described metaphors of pushing, pulling, bending, shaking, throwing, etc. Today I would like to share a few examples of metaphorical expressions describing one object being attached to another.

 

blog - physical - shoe lacesties

To tie something means to use a piece of string, rope or shoe laces to attach something to something else. We must use our hands with a certain amount of physical force to make sure the two objects are tied together tightly. Commonly we can tie our shoelaces or tie up a package with string. Metaphorically, a tie is any strong connection between two or more people or groups of people.

Example: The United States has close political ties to European and Asian countries.

tied

When two objects are tied closely together, they are of equal distance apart. This concept gives rise to the idea in sports of two competitors or teams being tied in the final score of the game, as in soccer or tennis. In politics, we may also say that two candidates are tied in an election if they have the same percentage of supporting voters in polls, or if they receive the same number of votes.

Example: In 2008, Barack Obama and John McCain were virtually tied until the final days of the presidential election.

blog - physical - rope knotstie up in knots

Sometimes, in order to make sure that an object is securely tied, we may use a large number of strong knots to hold the string or rope in place. Metaphorically, anything that is very confusing or tightly controlled may be described as being tied up in knots.

Example: The financial crisis of 2008 left many banking regulations tied up in knots preventing people and small businesses from getting loans quickly.

in a bind

Another word for tie is to bind something together, usually with a stronger sense of force and attachment. In a common metaphorical expression, someone in the middle of a complex problem with difficult decisions to make may be described as being in a bind.

Example: Confusing immigration policies put many legal and illegal immigrants in a bind and make it difficult for them to stay in the country.

bound together

The past form of to bind is bound. An object can be bound with string or rope. Metaphorically people or groups can also be bound together by similar values, experiences or goals.

Example: Many Republican voters are bound together by values of fiscal conservatism.

bonds, bonded

The noun form of to bind is to have a bond. As with the word bound, the term bond can represent either a physical or metaphorical attachment.

Example: A good presidential candidate will bond with many different types of voters with a good campaign speech which will help him or her win the election.

blog - physical - strap car seatstrapped

A strap is a long piece of leather or cloth that is used to tie two objects together. In a strange expression of unknown origins, a person without money can be described as being strapped for cash. Apparently there was an old expression of getting financial credit from a bank as if one were strapped to that bank until the money was paid back, indicating that one was short of cash until the load was paid off. In any case, we have the common expressions strapped for cash meaning to be without money.

Example: After the financial crisis of 2008, many Americans lost their jobs and their families were strapped for cash.

blog - physical - latchlatch on

A latch is a small mechanical device that works to hold a door closed. Metaphorically, an animal such as a crab or turtle can also latch on to a person’s finger. More abstractly, we can speak of latching on to an idea or program.

Example: In 2016, many liberals latched on to the Bernie Sander’s campaign for president because of his progressive policies.

blog - shapes - Spool_of_stringno strings attached

If two or more objects are tied together with string, we may say that the objects are attached with strings. In a common metaphorical expression, an agreement or deal that has a series of conditions attached to it may be described as having strings attached. Ideally a political deal has no strings attached so that it can implemented as quickly and easily as possible.

Example: Unfortunately, most bills being voted on in Congress do not come with no strings attached. Most bills have sections attached that provide money or services to the constituents in the districts of the members of Congress who wrote the bills.

flapped, unflappable

Something that is not tied down securely to a vehicle may flap in the wind during the journey. Metaphorically, a person who does not change his or her opinion or is swayed by public opinion on important issues may be described as being unflappable.

Example: Barack Obama was described as being unflappable as he dealt with the huge financial crises in the first two years of his presidency.

 

http://start.at/nevit Nevit Dilmen
http://start.at/nevit Nevit Dilmen

stick to

An object can be attached to another object simply through the adhesive properties of a glue or other substance. We can say that a piece of paper, for example, sticks to a cardboard backing with glue. In metaphorical terms, when a person does not change his or her mind about a decision, then we may that he or she is sticking to their position.

Example: When Barack Obama was elected president, he promised to end the war in Iraq and close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He stuck to his decision to get the troops out of Iraq, but he was not able to stick to his plan of closing Guantanamo Bay.

stuck, stuck in the middle of something

An object or person can also be stuck in a certain position depending on the force of the adhesive material. Metaphorically, we can be stuck in a bad situation.

Example: An American president often gets stuck in the middle of controversial issues debated by members of Congress.

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Clearly we can find many examples of the concept of two objects being tied together to express the idea of abstract connections between people and organizations. Once again, we see how everyday experiences contribute to our creation of political metaphors. If you find any other examples, please let me know!

Metaphors of Spring!

Although some parts of the United States are still thawing out from recent snowstorms, most of the country is enjoying warm, spring weather. Today I would like to share metaphors based on changes of seasons and spring growth. While spring may bring new flowers and green grass, spring rains may also bring flooding and erosion to areas near rivers. I have touched on these topics in previous posts on plants and trees or rivers.  Here are a few more examples of springtime metaphors.

blog - nature - ice meltingmelt away

Most people in northern climates have experienced ice and snow. When temperatures rise, the ice and snow melts. In common terms, problems can also melt away.

Example:   In 2011, the fall of the dictators Hosni Mubarek in Egypt and Moamer Kadhafi in Libya proved that their supporters will melt away once it seems they can no longer stay in power. 

blog - nature - sproutspring

The season of spring is often symbolic of natural changes and new growth.

Example:   In 2011, many countries in North Africa and the Middle East experienced revolutions. These changes in government are known as the Arab Spring.

family tree

Plants and trees are commonly used in English metaphors. One of the most common is the familiar term of the family tree, comparing the relatives in a family to the branches of a tree.

Example:   Michelle Obama’s family tree indicates that she is the first person descended from a slave to be a first lady of the United States.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

branch

Trees have branches that spread out far from the trunk of the tree. In a very common metaphor, the term branch is used to indicate a part of a larger organization.

Example:   The United States has three branches of government – the executive, the legislative and the judicial.

the root of the problem

Trees have roots that not only hold the tree into the ground but symbolize the beginnings of the tree’s growth. The concept of roots is commonly used metaphorically to mean the origin of something.

Example:    The root of the economic recession of 2008 can be found in the failures of Wall Street investment firms to manage their money properly.

deep-rooted

A tree with deep roots is one that is very old and solidly anchored into the ground. Metaphorically, a problem or attitude that is deep-rooted indicates that it is something that goes back many years and is not likely to change any time soon.

Example:   Due to the lack of positive changes for the average person made by Congress, many Americans have a deep-rooted cynicism of politicians.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAgrassroots

All plants have some sort of root structure. Grass is one of the most common plants in the world and its roots are spread evenly under the ground. In politics, a grassroots organization is one that originated by ordinary people, not developed by a larger political party or organization.

Example:    Although millions of Americans created support networks for Barack Obama in the 2008 election, many of those grassroots organizations were dying off and looking for new members for the 2012 election.

leaflets

Trees have thousands of leaves. The idea of a leaf is used commonly to describe pages in a book. Small pieces of paper are also called leaflets and are often used to distribute information in an election.

Example:    If you go to a candidate’s campaign rally in a presidential election, you may receive a leaflet describing the candidate’s best qualities and political experience.

blog - nature - stem of flowerstem from

Plants are attached to the ground through the roots. They grow and produce blossoms or fruit from the stem. Metaphorically, the origin of something may be described as stemming from an event, process or project.

Example:    In late 2011, the approval rating for Congress dropped to only 9%. The frustration with Congress stems from the fact that Republicans and Democrats can never seem to agree on anything and do not pass any laws to help the American people.

offshoot

Some plants have small branches or shoots that grow out of the main stem or trunk. These can also be called offshoots. In common terms, an offshoot is anything that develops out of something else.

Example:    In the war on terror, American presidents must monitor not only the main terrorist organizations but their offshoots around the world as well.

flood

When the water in a river overflows its banks, we call this a flood. Metaphorically, a flood is any extraordinary amount of objects, events, or information.

Example:   After the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York in 2001, there was a flood of reports of other possible terrorist activities.

Results of the flooding in Nashville, Tennessee in 2008
Results of the flooding in Nashville, Tennessee in 2008

flood the airwaves

Radio and television transmissions are sometimes called airwaves. In a special metaphorical phrase, to flood the airwaves means to produce a large quantity of a certain kind of report or political ad on radio and TV channels.

 

Example:   During a presidential campaign, most candidates flood the airwaves with negative attack ads against their opponents.

high water mark

When a river floods, the water rises high above the usual water level. In cities prone to flooding, the people there install a type of measurement system to see how high the water rises in each flood. The highest level the water reaches is called the high water mark. Metaphorically, the phrase high water mark can also mean the highest level of any recorded information.

Example:   During the Great Depression, unemployment hit a high water mark of 25%.

stem the flow

When a river is beginning to flood, the local residents may try to stop the water from rising too high. In other words, they may try to stem the flow of the water. In metaphorical terms, any effort to stop the movement of people, objects or a process may be called stemming the flow.

Example:   Many Americans would like to stem the flow of illegal immigration from Mexico into the United States.

blog - nature - slippery slopeslippery slope

Mountains and hills have steep inclines that are difficult to climb up or down. When it rains, these slopes can become impossible to ascend or descend. In fact, a person trying to climb up a wet hill will most likely lose his or her footing and slide all the way down to the bottom. In common terms, a slippery slope is any situation in which a specific action or decision may result in the failure of the entire process or project.

Example:    Critics of the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United decision to allow corporations to contribute money to election campaigns complain that it was the beginning of a slippery slope to corporations taking over our entire democracy.

erode

Landforms can be worn down because of wind or water pressures over many years. This process is called erosion. In common terms, support for a person or process can also be eroded by pressures from other people or groups.

Example:    American support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan eroded after many soldiers were killed and there seemed to be no end in sight.

soil something

Soil is another word for the dirt that we use for farming, gardening and landscaping. The term soil, however, has a negative connotation in that it indicates something that is metaphorically dirty or unclean.

Example:   The impeachment of Bill Clinton soiled his reputation has a good president.

blog - nature - mud 2mudslinging

Mud is a mixture of dirt and water and is especially hard to clean up. In one of the oldest political metaphors, criticizing someone, often unfairly, is called mudslinging.

 

Example:   Abraham Lincoln had to endure a great deal of mudslinging from his opponents in his reelection campaign of 1864. 

wellspring

A spring is a channel of water coming up from the ground.   A spring that continuously provides fresh water may be called a wellspring. Metaphorically, a wellspring is something that continuously provides information, money, or other commodity.

Example:    Conservative organizations are usually a wellspring of money for Republican candidates in national elections.

blog - nature - natural springhope springs eternal

In a common use of the idea of a spring, the idea of hope providing inspiration to people in hard times is captured in the phrase hope springs eternal.

Example:   In the darkest days of the Great Depression in the 1930s, President Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps created jobs for Americans and gave people the notion that hope springs eternal.

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Metaphors from nature are very common in politics and everyday speech. These examples listed above illustrate how our experience with plants, trees, rivers and springs help create metaphors to explain growth and change in American politics.

Donald Trump: Battle Metaphors

Two recent articles on Donald Trump in Time magazine illustrate the ubiquity of metaphors of fighting, battles, and war in American politics. Sadly, just as I was working on this blog post about violent metaphors, violence erupted at a Trump rally in Chicago on Friday, March 11. It never ceases to amaze me that politicians treat their profession as a boxing match.   These two articles include a long piece by David Von Drehle entitled “Destination Unknown: As Donald Trump piles up GOP delegates, the nations braces for a very difficult 2016” (March 14, 2016, pp. 34-39), and a shorter piece by Alex Altman entitled “Donald Trump: Tribal Warrior” (March 14, 2016, pp. 40-43). The examples below are taken from the print articles and are labeled as being written by David Von Drehle [DVD] or from Alex Altman [AA]. Italics are mine.

Here in no particular order are a dizzying array of battle metaphors in these two articles.

Boxing and Fighting

Boxing metaphors are some of the most commonly used types of figurative language in politics. In this case, we see examples of lightweight versus heavyweight boxing weight classes.  We also talk about throwing punches, beating an opponent, or stopping the bleeding after a fight. An opponent beaten badly may be fighting for his or her life.

Judo is one of many different types of martial arts. One way of defeating an opponent in this sport is to do a judo-flip and pin the other person to the ground. In ancient Rome, fighters called gladiators fought each other and wild animals to the death.

blog - boxing - Boxing_Tournament_in_Aid_of_King_George's_Fund_For_Sailors_at_the_Royal_Naval_Air_Station,_Henstridge,_Somerset,_July_1945_A29806lightweight

Example:  “Judging the baby-faced junior Senator from Florida to be short of gravitas, Trump dubbed him ‘little Marco Rubio, the lightweight.’ Sensing shiftiness in Texas Senator Cruz, he coined the name Lying Ted.” [DVD, p. 38]

throwing punches

Example:  “You can be sure, as well, he’ll be throwing punches of his own.” [DVD, p. 39]

Example:  “’The reason their punches don’t land is they’re being thrown in a world that’s dying,” says former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who says Trump may ultimately prove to be ‘the most effective anti-left candidate of our times.’” [AA, p. 43]

fighting for life

Example:  “A new Justice Department team might reopen the matter, he implies, “so she is literally fighting for her life” in her effort to beat Trump.” [DVD, p. 39] 

beat

Example:  “CAN HE BEAT HER [Hillary Clinton]?” [DVD, p. 38]

bleeding 

Example:  “Their jobs, their futures, are bleeding away to ‘Mexico, China, India, Vietnam, Thailand’–Trump ticks through the list at his rallies.” [DVD, p. 39] 

judo-flip

Example:  “He is, they acknowledge, a force like no other: an utterly unpredictable candidate who has judo-flipped the entire political apparatus.” [DVD, p. 39] 

blog - war - gladiatorgladiatorial mojo

Example:  “The same gladiatorial mojo that powers football, war movies, professional wrestling and Judge Judy Trump transposes into a political key.” [DVD, p. 36]

  

War and Battles

Military metaphors are also very common in politics.  We can talk about sharpening a weapon, and having a military strategy of dividing and conquering smaller nations. Armies can go on the offense when starting a war while local people may rise up and fight by bringing torches and homemade weapons to a battle.

In occupied countries during a war, local people who fight back against the occupiers are called resistance fighters, while all soldiers and fighters fight against the invaders, and may have to fight in hand-to-hand combat, referred to in Spanish as fighting mano a mano. One of the most famous resistance fighters in history was the Scottish warrior William Wallace who fought against the British in the 13th century.  He was referred to as Braveheart in a popular 1995 Mel Gibson film of the same name. Invading armies can also harm or kill civilians in what as known as dragooning, based on the name of 17th century French soldiers.

During a war, armies decide how to defeat their enemies by assigning targets for their guns and bombs, and they attack their enemies. They may also burn the buildings and property of their enemies or putting them into flames. Metaphorically a word meaning to cause widespread disruption and damage to a process is called being inflammatory . At the end of a battle or a long war there is often vast destruction of lives and property. This is known as carnage. Finally, smaller wars between tribes instead of countries leads to the metaphors of tribal warriors who fight for their side in a war. These types of wars may be described as an us-against-them problem. Wars always have hidden threats and dangers for local citizens which may create fearful tribes.

blog - war - spear pointsharpening

Example:  “Even Hillary Clinton is sharpening her smooth-edged coalition politics, telling voters they’re ‘right to be angry.’” [AA, p. 41] 

 

 

divide and conquer

Example:  “How does he win? Divide and conquer” [AA, subtitle of article, p. 41] 

on the offense

Example:  “’He is totally on offense, 24/7.’ This gives Trump ‘the potential to scramble the electoral map.’” [DVD, p. 39]

torches

Example:  “The party bosses didn’t spot the torches on the horizon because they live comfortably cushioned from the concerns of Trump’s tribe.” [AA, p. 43] 

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resistance fighter, Braveheart, fight to stop, fighting mano a mano [hand to hand combat]

Example:  “What about those stop-Trump schemes? Tim Miller, a Bush spokesman turned resistance fighter, made like Braveheart on Super Tuesday. ‘The fight to stop Donald Trump from getting the nomination is intensifying regardless of tonight’s outcome,’ he declared. Cruz suggested it was time for Trump’s other rivals to drop out and let him go mano a mano.” [DVD, p. 38]

blog - war - dragoondragoon

Example:  “He hasn’t dragooned supporters into believing he’s a conservative; he’s leading a willing rebellion against modern conservatism itself.” [AA, p. 43] 

target

Example:  “Close allies of Clinton believe that Trump’s big mouth makes him a deliciously vulnerable target.” [DVD, p. 38]

 

Berlin, Germany at the end of World War II
Berlin, Germany at the end of World War II

attacks, attack ads, inflammatory, carnage

Example:  “Democrats have been stockpiling research and conducting polls on Trump since last summer, according to sources, and they are studying Cruz and Rubio as the Republican rivals test-drive attacks ranging from the size of Trump’s hands to the mysteries of his unreleased tax returns. They promise a long barrage of attack ads and negative messages in summer and fall, bristling with Trump’s most inflammatory moments, in hopes of motivating Democrats to go to the polls. Meanwhile, Clinton will float above the carnage, they predict, inviting independent women and even Republicans to join her bid for history.” [DVD, p. 39]

Example:  “Trump’s eagerness to be inflammatory on issues like deporting Mexicans and creating a registry for Muslims will drive that number higher, she predicts.” [DVD, p. 39]

Example:  “On the campaign trail, he leans on stereotypes to explain the world, in ways both inflammatory and complimentary.” [AA, p. 41]

blog - war - tribal warriortribal warrior

Example:  “Donald Trump: Tribal Warrior” [AA, title of article, p. 41]

tribal warfare, us against them, enemies 

Example:  “But nobody does tribal warfare like Trump. ‘It’s us-against-them politics,’ says Roger Stone, a Republican consultant and former Trump adviser. ‘You define yourself by who your enemies are.’” [AA, p. 41]

Example:  “Trump warns of enemies lurking everywhere.” [AA, p. 43]

new tribe

Example:  “Now the same knack for divisive rhetoric could tear the Republican Party in two, leaving Trump as the commander of a new tribe, a coalition of the disaffected.” [AA, p. 41]

Example:  “But there is no tribe Trump condemns more than the political elites, both Democratic and Republican.” [AA, p. 43]

hidden threats, fearful tribes

Example:  “This theme, of the hidden threat lurking in our midst, is part of what makes Trump a fitting prophet for a fearful tribe.” [AA, p. 43]

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As I said, it is always amazing to see how we speak of American politics with such violent metaphors. It is not surprising that real violence sometimes erupts in the political process. I hope that the recent rise in hateful rhetoric is short-lived and politicians and their supporters can revert to more civil and respectful discourse.

Next Time:  More metaphors in the news